Satellites reveal the hidden journeys of Taronga’s rescued turtles

Satellites reveal the hidden journeys of Taronga’s rescued turtles

#Sydney Wildlife Hospital, #Taronga Zoo Sydney

Posted on 08th December 2023 by Media Relations

As peak turtle rescue season approaches and injured turtles wash up on our shores in greater numbers, Taronga Wildlife Hospital has revealed endangered turtle species living right beside us in our busiest harbours and waterways.

The Taronga Wildlife Hospital recently released three endangered green turtles ― Five Hook, Seven Hook, and Anna ― back into the wild after they recovered from serious injuries. That event could be seen as a happy ending, but it was actually the beginning of something intriguing.

Since their release all three have been tracked by satellites along the NSW coast thanks to a turtle research program sponsored by Veolia as part of our broader mission of ecological transformation. What that tracking has revealed about these three turtles and many others over the years is that they don’t stray far from us at all (see maps here for the journeys of Seven Hook, Five Hook and Anna).

Rather than head off into the deep blue ocean, the three turtles like many of their kind moved through and continue to live in some of our busiest harbours and coastal holiday destinations. It’s there that they can be struck by marine vehicles or encounter marine litter and fishing equipment that can kill or injure them.

“The fact that endangered turtle species live almost unseen in the waters beside our cities and urban areas is extraordinary but with that natural good fortune comes a responsibility to protect these creatures ― and we can all play a meaningful role in their preservation,” said Veolia ANZ CEO Richard Kirkman.

“We know the most common debris that causes turtles harm are plastic bags, fishing lines, hooks, small and large hard pieces of plastic, bottle tops, small fish-shaped soy sauce containers, lids, soft plastic bags and balloons.

“Consequently, one of the simplest ways to reduce the death and hospitalisation of endangered turtles this summer is to avoid buying items that can cause them harm in the first place, like plastic bottles, food wrapped in plastic, and even biodegradable bags, which may break down eventually in soil but not in the ocean. And of course we should all dispose of fish hooks, fishing line, and any other rubbish responsibly no matter where we are because even rubbish tossed aside far inland can eventually make its way to our oceans.”

Summer is the most crucial time of the year to protect our turtles according to Taronga Wildlife Hospital’s Rescue and Rehabilitation Coordinator, Libby Hall, because it is not just beach weather, it’s also peak turtle rescue season as more turtles migrate south with warm currents at exactly the same time as our waterways are busiest.

Sadly, that leads to around 40 turtles a year being taken to the hospital, with the majority of injuries caused by consuming marine debris, fish hooks and lines, or being struck by boats and jet skis. While the team works hard to save these animals the reality is that not all will make it.

“There’s no better feeling than releasing an animal back into the wild. Being able to satellite track these endangered animals is important because it provides us with valuable information about marine ecosystems and the habitat needed by marine turtles,” said Ms Hall.

“Marine debris including plastic pollution is one of the significant threats to marine turtles so it is important that everyone considers their impact on our environment and disposes of rubbish responsibly.”

Australians are extraordinarily fortunate to be able to see marine turtles in the wild, it’s an opportunity few other countries have. There are only seven species of ocean-going turtles in the world. Six of these live in Australian waters and, as we now know, often very close to where we live. You might even be lucky enough to see one the three turtles released earlier this year.

Seven Hook went all the way to the shores of Longueville in upper Sydney Harbour before returning back through the Heads to join Anna who settled in for winter at Lake Macquarie. Five Hook, meanwhile, hugged the coastline on its journey back home to near where it was found around Port Stephens, a busy tourist destination.

“For Veolia, a company that is deeply involved in the waste, energy and water sectors, and which aims to be at the forefront of creating a circular economy and work with nature, the work of the Taronga Turtle Tracking program is close to our heart,” said Mr Kirkman.

“It exemplifies our commitment to finding ways for the natural world and human activities to exist side by side. It also shows that when we come together and take responsibility for the simple things in our lives, like disposing of litter properly, we can all contribute directly to making the world a safer place for our endangered wildlife.”

If you should find an injured marine turtle on the shoreline, please contact your local vet or Taronga Wildlife Hospital on (02) 9969 2777. Taronga Wildlife Hospital is open 7 days a week 8am to 3.30 pm for rescued marine turtles and any other species of native wildlife needing care.